COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A local organization has filed a federal lawsuit to stop unlawful sewage discharges into the Saluda River near Columbia.
The complaint, filed by Congaree Riverkeeper, is directed at the Carolina Water Service I-20 facility, which has repeatedly exceeded pollution limits and failed to tie into a nearby modern regional treatment system that was built over a decade ago, according to Congaree Riverkeeper.
"State and local officials have been saying this pollution needs to stop for years, but the sewage discharges have gone on as more and more families swim and fish in the Saluda" Blan Holman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said. "It's long past time this facility hooked into the cleaner regional treatment system, as it's been required to do since 1999."
Local government agencies have repeatedly called for the elimination of all sewage wastewater discharges into the Saluda River – including illegal discharges from Carolina Water Service's I-20 facility – to protect the health of the river and those who use it, according to Congaree Riverkeeper. A designated scenic river, the Lower Saluda is a recreational hotspot for the region, popular with swimmers for its cool water, fishermen for its trout, and paddlers for its whitewater rapids.
"All the folks who enjoy the Saluda River want it free from sewage and other pollutants," Bill Stangler with Congaree Riverkeeper said. "Stopping the illegal discharge and connecting to the regional system is 15 years past due."
In the late 1990s, regional local governments adopted a plan to phase out discharges from older, smaller treatment plants like Carolina Water Service's I-20 facility, and required tie-in to the Town of Lexington's sewer collection system that connects to the City of Cayce's modern treatment plant which became operational in 1999. Yet, the I-20 facility is still discharging into the Saluda and in the past five years has exceeded its permit limits – including those for fecal coliform bacteria and biochemical oxygen demand – at least twenty-three times, with violations continuing into 2014.
Fecal coliform is an indicator of pathogenic microorganisms that can make contact recreation like swimming, wading, or paddling a potential health risk. Increased biochemical oxygen demand can reduce oxygen levels in the river, posing hazards for a wide variety of animal life, including the Saluda's prized trout population. Carolina Water Service's discharge also produces a visible sheen and foam, which is prohibited under the company's permit.
While state officials at the Department of Health and Environmental Control have periodically sent warning letters to Carolina Water Service, the agency has not followed through with enforcement action to remedy the pattern of violations occurring at the I-20 facility and protect the Saluda River, according to Congaree Riverkeeper.